Juggling Agent Interest

Whether you have been sending queries simultaneously through email, the Post Office, or by pitching at conferences, you may be among the select few authors who garners interest from more than one agent. Congratulations! While interest from more than one publishing professional doesn’t guarantee a contract, the consensus is that you have a strong proposal and a good shot at success. For the sake of clarity, I am confining this post to writers who are pitching to agents. The agent would manage interest from editors.

Hiring agents isn’t something writers can practice. At least, we hope not. Don’t earn the reputation as a writer who flits from agent to agent. So this decision is extremely important. You want a good fit for the long term. The agents want the same. As you go through the process of choosing, I have a couple of ideas that may help minimize unnecessary work and trouble for all concerned:

Fill Us In

Let the agents know the submission is going to more than one agent and why. If it’s because of a recent conference, have no fear. All of us waved to each other in the hall and know which ones of us attended what conferences. We know some writers interview a couple of agents rather than editors at these gatherings, and a casual conversation here and there can also lead to interest. So it’s fine to say that you are submitting to two or three agents you saw at Such and Such Conference.  Of course, if you haven’t made personal contact but have chosen to submit to more than one agent after careful research, that’s fine, too. Just let us know.

Who’s Your Favorite?

Meetings and/or research should helped you form opinions about which agent you prefer. Any of them would be great, but one rises to the top. But you don’t want to hold up your career in case Favorite Agent doesn’t jump at the chance to work with you. I’ve been both Favorite Agent and Second in Line so I can say I think it’s fine to move forward with submitting to all the agents you would be happy to work with. If one of the agents didn’t seem like a good fit, don’t send your proposal after the meeting. No need to explain or apologize. Agents have been part of enough events to know they both drain and fulfill everyone, and a discerning eye assessing facts after the conference blush pales can change the game.

Handling Second Choices

Let’s say your first choice acts quickly with an offer. Immediately let the other agents know you are planning to sign with someone else. Then they have a chance to stop their review process. Agents don’t want to review a proposal only to find they wasted hours (or paid an assistant for those hours), because the author has already accepted another offer. Afraid of being embarrassed if the first agent doesn’t work out after all? No need to be. Just say things didn’t work out as planned and ask for the chance to resubmit.

But what if your second choice is quick to make the offer? Remember, you only submitted to agents you like so this is far from tragic. Discuss their Agency Agreement so you know the basics of the contractual relationship. Tell the agent you need to let the other agents know your new status. Then, let the others know you have received an offer that you are considering, but have not yet accepted. This will give agents who would be disappointed not to work with you a chance to act quickly with an offer of representation, while others will wish you well. Please remember everything Mother taught you about kindness and tact. I’m friends with many writers I don’t represent, and that’s the way it should be. As Steve Laube says, “Never burn a bridge.”

Your turn:

Have you experienced interest from several sources?

How did you handle it?

Would you do anything differently today?

22 Responses to Juggling Agent Interest

  1. Avatar
    Lisa November 8, 2012 at 6:31 am #

    Great tips, thank you. Hopefully I’ll be able to put them into practice in the future. My Dad always told me that, to not burn any bridges. He’s great at building friendships with kindness and tact.

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    Jeanne November 8, 2012 at 7:21 am #

    It’s always good to hear an agent’s perspective. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Tamela. I haven’t quite gotten to the place of submitting to more than one agent simultaneously, and I only met with one at ACFW, but I’m keeping this in mind for when I am ready to query and/or send a proposal. Thank you!

  3. Avatar
    Deb Elkink November 8, 2012 at 7:23 am #

    My first experience with soliciting agent attention came about at a conference where two agents expressed sharp interest in my novel. Heady! But my first choice was slow to make any real offer–perhaps he wasn’t as interested as I’d first thought!–and I ended up in an embarrassing (to me) situation where I was waiting on #1 while #2 was pressing me for a commitment. I sure wish I’d read this post before that time, as it would have soothed my own sense of awkwardness and directed my responses. But all worked out very well–the agent I signed with paved the way to publication of my first novel and helped make that novel into an award winner. I am so grateful!

  4. Avatar
    Robin Patchen November 8, 2012 at 7:51 am #

    Great post, Tamela. This is timely advice today, as I’m in the process of querying agents. Are you suggesting that, in the query letter, I should state that I’m querying multiple agents? That feels a little like an infomercial:

    Act now! Time is running out! Sign this great writer before your competitor does…

    It seems arrogant to think any agent would care at this stage of the game. I’d love a little clarification.

    Thank you!

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray November 8, 2012 at 8:00 am #

      Robin, I like your sense of humor and your humility. Yes, say it’s a multiple submission, even at this stage of the game. I believe agents will consider that a point of information rather than arrogance.

      • Avatar
        Robin Patchen November 8, 2012 at 8:45 am #

        Thanks for the clarification. The queries I sent yesterday did not have that tidbit, but today’s will.

    • Avatar
      Jeanne November 8, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

      Go, Robin! I hope it is a fruitful process. 🙂

  5. Avatar
    Meghan Carver November 8, 2012 at 9:53 am #

    Thanks for the great advice, Tamela. Saving this for when I need it later. (Think positive, right?)

  6. Avatar
    Stephanie Karfelt November 8, 2012 at 11:54 am #

    Am glad you addressed this Tamela. Considering the length of time it takes to write and edit a novel, to me it seems like a waste of time to ping one agent at a time. I have always mentioned I was multi-querying, but like Robin, I was never completely comfortable doing it. I have experienced interest from several sources, but since it happened over the course of a year, I didn’t think to mention it.

  7. Avatar
    Anon November 9, 2012 at 12:39 am #

    Hi Tamela,

    Thanks for such a great post 🙂

    I have a couple of questions for you (and I hope you don’t mind I’m doing it anonymously – it’s just in case any of the agents I’m talking about happen to read the post!)

    I’m sort-of in the situation that you talked about. At a recent conference I had five agents request proposals/a full from me. Three were agents that I would be proud to work with, the other two I would need to do a little more research.

    I decided to send my proposal to the first two rather than submit to all five at once. I did so and told them that I was sending the proposal to them and one other agent. A couple of weeks after I sent the proposal off Agent #3 got in touch with me and asked me to send them the proposal as soon as it was ready. Since it was, I sent it to them.

    So my first question is is the correct etiquette now to contact Agents #1 and #2 and let them know that Agent #3 is now in the mix, or do I only do that if Agent #3 expresses an interest in signing me?

    Also, if you are letting agents know someone has offered you representation do you generally let them know who it is? For example, would you say in your email “Tamela Hancock Murray has offered to represent me” or just “another agent has offered representation”?

    Thanks so much 🙂

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray November 9, 2012 at 10:28 am #

      Congratulations! Your book must be awesome!

      I can see your conflict about how much to disclose. By being very detailed rather than saying it was simply a multiple submission, you gave out enough information so that your conscience is now telling you that you’d be a liar if you don’t tell them. (I am very much this way myself, so I TOTALLY get it.)

      So since it’s bothering you, you should disclose. The drawback to this is that the other agents may wonder why you did this. Are they not moving fast enough in their review? Are you having second thoughts about working with them? So, in your disclosure email, be sure to let them know that you felt led to bring in the third submission and will keep submitting as the Lord leads. This will keep you from having to write another email if you decide to pursue the other two agents. Let them know you continue to submit because you want to do what the Lord wants for the agent, and for yourself, because you are looking to a long-term career and want a solid partnership with your new agent. If this type of email ticks off an agent (and it really, really should NOT or I would not recommend writing it), then that agent wasn’t right for you, and that is part of the Lord’s answer to your dilemma.

      But do pray before taking action on my answer.

      As for revealing identities, I’d go ahead and tell the agents who you’re signing with. I see no reason not to. You’re proud to be with your new agent, and there is no reason for the new partnership not to be public knowledge. Again, offering my subjective opinion.

      I hope you will let me know how it goes. Feel free simply to reply to this post, any time. You can of course remain anonymous.

      • Avatar
        Anon November 9, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

        Thanks so much for your advice Tamela.

        My reason for submitting to the third agent had nothing at all to do with any change on my part about the first two – I would still be honored to work with either of them.

        It was simply that the third agent contacted me directly after conference following up and asking for the proposal. My experience from previous conferences is that agents ask for a number of proposals, not just yours, and usually they don’t think about it any further what they’ve requested until the writer follows through from their end and sends them a proposal/full. Having an agent then follow up a few weeks post conference to enquire as to when they should be expecting it wasn’t something I heard of or experienced before.

        As Agent #3 is also a very reputable agent who I would be honored to work with I didn’t want to burn bridges (and probably my opportunity!) by telling them two other agents had it and could they wait until after I’d heard back from them. So I sent it to them but let them know it was also with two other agents.

        I guess my concern with getting back in touch with Agents #1 and #2 to let them know Agent #3 was in the mix was I didn’t want them to feel like I was trying to play people off against each other. It’s entirely possible that my proposal won’t live up to my pitch and no one will want it and my fear is I will tarnish my name for any future submissions.

        When I do get in touch with Agents #1 and #2 should I tell them who #3 is (#3 doesn’t know who they are by they know who the other is). Or do I simply say that another agent subsequent to me submitting my proposal to them requested it as well and reassure them that I would still be honored to work with them?

      • Avatar
        Tamela Hancock Murray November 9, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

        I would tell the first two agents just what you said in your last paragraph — that another agent followed up and you went through with the submission, and yes, add the reassurances. I think any agent would understand why you followed up with the third request. I’m not sure if at this point you need to reveal who the third agent is; follow your instincts on that. Experienced agents know how the process works — no one has committed to anyone and everything is up in the air. You are not coming across to me as someone playing agents off against one another. You are coming across to me as a writer who is doing due diligence to make a wise decision. Peace to you.

  8. Avatar
    Terri Weldon November 9, 2012 at 9:47 am #

    Thanks Tamela. I think I’m going to send my proposal to my top pick first and let them know they’re the only agent being queried at this time. I appreciate all the great pointers your blog posts offer!

  9. Avatar
    Debby Lee November 9, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

    Thanks for a very informative post Tamela, I enjoyed reading it.

  10. Avatar
    V.V. Denman November 11, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

    Awesome information. I’ll be back to pore over this one. Thanks, Tamela!

  11. Avatar
    Sondra Kraak November 14, 2012 at 11:09 am #

    Tamela, thank you for this insightful post. I’ve been blessed by the humility, knowledge, and professionalism of the Steve Laube Agency, and as I start writing fiction and exploring the publishing world I know I’ll glean much insight and encouragement from this agency!


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